here lies Nathan’s umbilical cord and other things that explain my behavior

Nathan’s umbilical cord is buried in this planter box. It rests below rocks we’ve collected from various travels and flowers that bloom come spring. Shortly after it fell off Nathan’s newborn belly, My mother and I dug a hole and plopped in the dark lump. There wasn’t any accompanying fanfare or eulogy. The idea is that burying the umbilical cord in the ground will keep a child from growing up wild and running loose in the streets.

I don’t believe that this works in that it replaces years of proper parenting and discipline. But I loved the ceremony of it, that I was continuing a family ritual that will explain to any excavators why my old backyard is filled with bellybuttons.

And to propitiate Tami for her meme, here are 20 things I remember about living on Saipan, with accompanying anecdotal goodness for my mainland peeps:

1) McDonald’s came to Saipan in 1992 and before that, the only way to get a Happy Meal was if someone went to Guam and brought it home. There was no greater status symbol in fifth grade than the sight of a cold, soggy, but fancy flown-in french fry.

2) I remember Matsumoto’s theater after the American couple started managing it. The one-plex theater showed only one movie at a time and Titanic ran for a whole month.

3) I got into my first of only two physical fights I have ever been in at Starlight (?) Night Club during their “teen night.” I was trying to walk away from a girl when she pulled my hair. And after a high-pitched shrieking rush of hair pulling and face grabbing, a security guard broke up our tangled bodies. The other girl tried to stare me down but I didn’t care as I danced freely to my favorite song, New Order’s “Bizzare Love Triangle.”

4) During the short stint at Catholic school, I got into a near-fight with a girl I will call “Divine” when she claimed that she saw me flip her the bird. If the teacher hadn’t stepped in, it would have been fight number two.

5) During the holidays, a selected group from the local parish would visit each home in the village, bearing a baby Jesus or the niño and a box for monetary gifts. You would welcome the baby Jesus into your house and call everyone to kneel and kiss it. They played loud Chamorro Christmas songs to signal their arrival and every year I would try to feign disability to get out of kissing that germy ceramic doll but my mother would pull me out, Garfield pajamas and all, until I had kissed the niño.

6) I heard chickens, roosters, and church bells every day.

7) Whenever I read American lit like The Babysitters Club or Sweet Valley High, I never understood why girls were afraid of geckos.

8) My mother told me numerous times that I’m not allowed to leave the Catholic church “even if the priests dance in bikinis.” [SIC!] Seriously, if you ask her if priests dancing in bikinis is a religious deal breaker, she’ll snap, “AY! NO! Even if the priests dance in bikinis, you cannot leave the church!”

9) And while on the subject of matri-distortion, I was in the third grade when discovered that not everyone called their vaginas “pancakes” (hence, ruining breakfast starches FOREVER).

10) Three elders from the Church of Latter Day Saints were visiting my neighbor’s mom and while they were there, they teased me about the gunk I had in my eye, called mugu, and I ran away crying. Some people call that stuff “morning glory,” but that’s baffling, not glorious.

11) To show respect to elders, you bow your head toward his/her right hand to “amen,” basically asking for their blessing. You say ñot for males and ñora for females. Angelo has a more thorough explanation of this practice. At a rosary, I faced amening a long row of women sitting at a table, so instead of doing it one by one, I ran along the ladies, my head bent and my mouth bleating a long, “Ñooooooorrrrraaaa.” I have never seen my mother run so fast to pull me out of there, gripping my hair in her hand.

12) I dropped out of catechism class three times before my mother told me she’d give me money if I just got my confirmation. At 18, I joined the confirmation class for adults and when we introduced ourselves, one woman with a strong and charming Chamorro accent shared that she had “tree kids.”

13) At 16, I won the Attorney General’s Cup which was at the time the most prestigious speech competition on island. I found out later that right before I went up to speak, my mother turned to an Assistant Attorney General, pointed to the ceiling and said, “Those lights look like earrings!”

14) My favorite Chamorro food is corn soup and I will pay cash money to anyone with Marji’s Kitchen’s recipe.

15) Japan Airlines flew in snow one time for a snowman competition but the snow had hardened during shipment. I remember one kid getting a black eye from a snowball ice-ball fight.

16) Thanks to a very international student body, I learned how to swear in Korean, Chinese, and Russian.

17) I was fitted for my third-grade wardrobe at Roshi’s, an Indian store that sold both clothing *and* electronics. Who doesn’t need shoulder-pads and a 20-inch TV?

18) On All Soul’s Day, it was tradition to sit at our family’s plot at the cemetary for mass. Unlike cemetaries here on the mainland, Saipan’s plots are often elaborate creations of porcelain and other fancy materials and there is enough small for your family to gather and pay respects during the mass. Do not bring children. Children will always complain, “I’m hot. I’m sweaty. There are dead people below me.”

19) When the Joeten-Kiyu Public Library opened, I lived there for several months and checked out seven books even though I knew I wouldn’t read them all.

20) Whenever I’ve flown back home, I’ve pressed my face to the glass and pretended I could see my house but at such an altitude, my home blended in with the green landscape below, even with my finger moving over the window, pointing out that I live here, or here, or here.

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  1. Mrs. Blogoway says:

    Was Nathan born at home or were you allowed to leave the hospital with his cord?

    Just curious- I was born at home with a midwife.

  2. This is the coolest post I’ve read all day. Number 11? i totally would have done that, too.

  3. Chickenbells says:

    Wow!! What wonderful memories…they are so very descriptive…

  4. This is such a cool post!

  5. Julie Pippert says:

    How interesting!

    Priests in bikinis! Pancakes! I was LOL.

    And I did not know that about the umbilical cord. Perhaps this explains our trouble…

  6. OMG! I LMSAO reading the “pancake” one..I stopped calling it a “pancake” when I learned the word “punani” ha ha …too funny! Thanks for sharing! Great post!

  7. The belly button ritual is awesome!

    I flushed my kids’ down the toilet.


  8. Saipan Writer says:

    So totally Saipan. I LOVE your memories! and like all good stories, they trigger more memories in your readers!

    I still hear chickens and roosters every day, along with geckos and waves. Still love it. And since I live next door to San Vicente church I must hear church bells–do I just tune them out?

    I once received a bag of McDonald’s from Guam before there was one in Saipan. I was in my 30’s and it didn’t seem so cool!

    You must have been a tough girl! I remember once sitting in a booth at Marianas Inn when a fight broke out and one of the guys had a gun. I was scared out of my mind and my instinct was to run out the door as fast as possible and drive home. My Palauan friend, though, just shook her head very slightly, and said don’t move. We sat in paralyzed position as if we were invisible until the fight moved outside and the police came. It took months before I would go back to the Inn!

    priests in bikinis–I wonder what your mom knows? Does she have photos? This year’s church calendar is a collection of photos of Bishop Tomas A. Camacho from his young days ( when first ordinated) to the present. I think in anticipation of his 75th birthday. No bikinis, though.

    pancakes? haha! My Chamorro inlaws taught my daughter to cover her “bebe” from the time she was 1! Along with knowing the word “chingching” so she could point at her boy cousins, make rude sounds, and laugh!

    And foreign cursewords? tons of them still circulating, but fortunately the word “baclat” has gone out of fashion as the most (over)used put-down.

    Great trip down your Chalan Memorias. Thanks for sharing.

  9. Anonymous says:

    In New Zealand it is a maori (the indigenous people) custom to plant the placenta – to ensure that the baby grows up at one with the land and is connected to its ancestors. We like the idea and plan to do it at some stage however Cole’s placenta remains in a plastic container in the freezer until we decide to do it – after all it has only been almost 12 months! I am sure we will get around to it one day.

  10. hello insomnia says:

    Crystal: No, I just got the belly stump that followed him home. They tossed the real umbilical cord.

    Audrey: I’m all about time management.

    Chickenbells and flutter: Thanks!

    Julie: I know my umbilical cord was planted, but I’m not sure if that worked.

    Tami: I prefer pancakes. It seems less vulgar.

    Angella: That’s what my husband wanted to do before my mother and I stepped in.

    Saipan Writer: My mom doesn’t have any photos, but I don’t know why cross-dressing priests is her choice phrase. I cannot believe I forgot to write about BEBE. I’ll do this soon.

    annamay: sounds like blog fodder to me!

  11. This is a beautiful post–the beginnings of a memoir!

  12. Pickles & Dimes says:

    I loved this post; it’s so interesting to hear things about where people grew up. And I can’t stop laughing at the “pancake.”

    Guess I’ll skip that trip to Perkins! 🙂

  13. rofl.. love it!!!

  14. Rising Rainbow says:

    I had never heard of such a ritual but that’s cool! At least you had a plan for the thing. lol

  15. I loved this post. ROFL at #! and the pancakes. I had to click and read the original entry- hilarious! I may not be able to sit straight faced in an IHOP again!

    Thanks so much for delurking….I’m a guilty lurker here as well 🙂

  16. Who is that girl in your pictures wearing the blue and white striped sweater, holding Nathan? She is BEAUTIFUL!

  17. Mamacita Chilena says:

    Call me ignorant but I had NO idea that any part of the umbilical cord remains attached after a baby has it cut off.

    That’s kinda gross. Yet another reason to postpone having kids…I need to be at least 30 before I’m old and mature enough to deal with that kind of disgustingness in a mature way.

  18. The Saipan Blogger アンジェロ・ビラゴメズ says:

    My brother Kevin lost his umbilical cord in an Italian restaurant in Richmond, Virginia called Pasta Luna. We went in for lunch and the umbilical cord never came out. I’ve always wondered what they thought when they found it.

    So when are you coming to Saipan next? Make sure you tell the bloggers when you get here.

  19. Anonymous says:

    I really enjoyed this blog. Laughed out my “pancake” Have u heard the song “Chirisus pakpak yan Pancake Komaire”?

    Yeah, a lot good memories come to mind.

    That was then, this is now!!!
    Now I check my doors and windows twice and maybe more in the night…Then, I used to lay flat in the mat (all night long) right beside the opened window sleeping soundly with the cool “Saipan” breeze.

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